I’ve been deep into a state I call writer’s gridlock. In a lot of ways it’s worse than writer’s block because it comes at you in so many layers.
It started when I went to edit one of the earlier books, a story that begins 300 years ahead of the later ones I’ve written. No, I don’t make outlines and write in a logical progression. That’s not the way my brain insists on doing it. To understand the way my brain works (or doesn’t work), please read the 4-part blog, “Writing when you Ain’t Quite Right.”
Here’s the link to part 1:
By part 3, you should be scratching your head saying, “How did this woman survive past the age of 18?”
What, you may ask, is the difference between a block and gridlock?
Writer’s block is to writer’s gridlock as
a rain during a picnic is to a tornado plowing through your house.
The particular brand of mental gridlock hitting me like a tornado-catapulted concrete block was similar to the one I experienced 6 months after my 2nd husband died. I completed the first giant dream of my life 2 years later, getting a bachelor’s degree, but I was already 1/2 way through college. And it was 1/2 a lifetime ago. So…it’s not a matter of whether or not I CAN do it, it’s a matter of whether or not I have the time left to do it. My mind knows that I’m going to get through this and start writing on my books again, but I was 33 when my 2nd husband died. I had my whole life ahead of me. Now, I may have 10 years of life left if I’m lucky.
What could have caused such a disastrous mental traffic jam?
Say you’re writing a love story. Nothing about the love affair makes sense to anyone but you if you don’t start the story 3 centuries before they were born. So you go back to the beginning.
It’s a labor of love for you, your fingers whipping the keyboard until the paint on the letters fades. You find you’ve written drafts for 8 stories in between, all of which are exciting to you. Now that you have a fairly clear idea of the foundation upon which the 2 lovers were born, you go back to amend the original book so that the story will flow from beginning to end.
The original story may have made sense to you 3 years ago, but now you’ve forgotten so much of it that it’s like reading a rough draft by someone else. You see where 100 pages can easily be shed from it, if not more. However, that’s the least of your problems. By the time you get back to editing the original book, your spirit can see where it is all heading but your mind is in gridlock at the monumental amount of work it’s going to take to create, edit, polish and publish the series from the first book to the last.
Here’s an analogy for the non-writers out in cyberspace:
You’re trying to circumvent a big city (Oddlanta and Lost Angels come to mind) and you have a schedule to keep. You’ll be fine as long as the traffic continues to flow between 40 – 60 mph. Then it happens. Some $*%(# asshole runs out of gas in the middle of the freeway! He’s now blocking the center lane, and this starts a chain of events that might be hilarious if you weren’t stuck in the middle of the mayhem. It’s worse than Shoe-In-The-Road syndrome (where people have to slow down to look at the shoe laying in the road before passing it, creating a traffic jam). A few people going past the asshole slow down. One puts on the brakes to examine the “sight.” Two accidents happen causing a domino effect of fender benders and you’re now down to 1 lane where there were 6.
A couple of fire engines race by on the easement, followed by police cars and an ambulance. You hear the sound of a truck horn blasting from behind. You glance at the rear view mirror to find that some imbecile in a double cab extra long pickup truck is trying to pull off the road onto the easement. He’s blocking the only access to the accident for a tow truck that is now stuck behind him. This wouldn’t have been an issue if the car in back of him had waited to move forward. But now, the guy in the pickup has a car touching the edge of his back bumper and a concrete guard rail facing his front bumper.
You’re stuck in gridlock wondering how long it’s going to take to get gas in the first car, get the pickup truck back in line and find a way for the tow truck to clear out the mess. You don’t know when you’ll be able to move…if you’ll be able to move.
- Think of the traffic moving as the way life flows along.
- Think of the car running out of gas as a situation that could be remedied by filling up the tank instead of assuming there was enough to get you home, regretting your decision when the car chooses to stop at the worst possible moment. The car isn’t damaged, just as the brain still contains the same potential for creative thinking. All it needs is the right fuel (for thought).
- Think of the accidents as unexpected events happening outside the original problem that are overwhelming. The ability to type is still there, but the joy of writing is sucked out with every mental fender bender.
- Think of the pickup truck pulling off the road and onto the easement as one of many efforts to get out of the gridlock, a miscalculation making the situation worse.
- Last, but just as debilitating, think of the car preventing the pickup truck from re-entering the line as yet another bad choice in a critical situation.
That’s where my brain is right now.
The good news? If I can see such a vast difference between the book then and the ones now, It may mean my writing skills have improved over the years.
The bad news? I look at my life and say, “I’m 62. I’ll never finish this before I die.”
The worst part? If I die first, my stories die with me. My children and sister will have no interest in finishing them. Even if they were interested in ensuring my dying wish were honored (to have my books completed and published), there are too many road blocks in their way. Here are but 2:
1. They’re not mind readers.
2. They don’t share my political values.
It’s like being the only parent to a 3 year old child, dying, and having him raised in the foster care system. If he lives, he’s not going to be the same child as if he were raised by a loving parent. For people who don’t like kids, here’s a shorter analogy: Glenn Beck writes a book. He dies. Nancy Pelosi finishes it. Oh, you’re not from the USA and don’t know who they are? All right. I’ll try again.
Buddha, Mohammad and Jesus write a book. Hitler, Stalin and Satan finish it. Any questions? You–in the purple polka dot shirt and orange stripe pants…what’s your question? Yes, I love my family. Yes, we have diametrically opposed ideas about politics. No, I don’t think they’re Satan–I’m just trying to make the point that the books wouldn’t have the same dynamic if I wasn’t the one who finished them. Now tell Satan to stop helping you get dressed.
Writing about my gridlock helps. I’m the first to admit it isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. What am I doing about it? Watching reruns, writing blogs, cleaning parts of the house that haven’t seen a dust cloth in months, and doing a bit of editing here and there trying to get back the joy.
Will the sassy, irritating, biting, satirical side of me ever return? Given time, a flying tow truck, and a full can of gas–possibly.